Friday 31 December 2010

Chinese Crackers

With the BBC and other media attempting to herd us into the retailers to save the economy there were some interesting things going on. Oxford Street in London was thronged with shoppers but to our eyes few of them seemed to be local.

A later report said that many were Chinese tourists. As so much of the merchandise on offer was made in China and transported here this made me wonder. Did many of the tourists have to pay excess on their baggage on the return journey?

It appears that in China the government led property boom has created some large towns in which there are few takers for the properties, largely because there are no jobs available.

Where there are jobs available some people become very rich and look for high returns. One place that attracts them is central London where despite all the economic troubles property prices remain high and with prospects of capital appreciation.

This has helped to drive up prices. The investment advantage comes from the housing benefits available to those who rent and have little or no income. Even at a cap of £20,000 a year a wise purchase of a rental block can yield rich results for a careful buyer.

This will be if the flats can be rented out to incoming migrants who will be entitled to benefits. Moreover by creating a shortage, prices inevitably rise maximising the benefit payments that finish up with the investor. Many migrants are Chinese.

Meanwhile in the USA the domestic property market has gone bust. This has hurt a lot of big financial operators. The US Government has borrowed huge sums from abroad to bail them out. A lot of the money has been loaned by China.

One effect of this has been to almost eliminate the old American middle class and its traditional industries are in free fall due to manufacturing being exported abroad, notably to China. Everything could depend on the high tech’s industries and innovation.

These depend on some key resources notably rare earths and their derivatives. A major producer is China that is now restricting its exports to protect its own industries, if only to promote more development to fill up some of the empty cities.

The growth of China has helped to put pressure on both oil and food prices. In the USA the government, lobbied hard by the relevant companies, has given over large areas of land to growing biomass to create ethanol to ease the problems.

This has reduced the supply of food so driving up prices that impacts seriously on the world commodity markets. This affects Africa in particular and some states in that continent are selling a lot of their land to China to help the Chinese source their food.

The money for this land does not go to the peasants in any way. It is transmitted to tax havens in the care of a number of financial organisations closely connected with Wall Street. Some of these have been bailed out by the USA government and are still in deep trouble.

They are hoping that investment in China will get them out of it. However, foreign investment in China is a high risk business in that their government will always take care of its own above foreigners, unlike British or American.

A great deal of the risk in producing consumer goods is that consumers might be less able to buy them and be unable to pay the added heavy financial premiums arising from debt driven consumerism that underpins many financial organisations.

My head is beginning to hurt, I could go on but enough is enough. This year I may just skip Hogmanay and haggis and wait for 2 February to have some rabbit stew. After all the Chinese New Year does take us into the Year Of The Rabbit.

Perhaps the markets could be due for a dose of myxomatosis?

Thursday 30 December 2010

Jamie With The Laughing Face

This one appeared on the web today. For a variety of reasons I found it hilarious.


Jamie Oliver's cookbook comes under fire

Jamie Oliver signs copies of his new book, 'Jamie's Ministry of Food' at Waterstones, Piccadilly, London, UK.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has come under fire as readers claim his 30-minute meals bestseller take more than an hour to make.

The 35-year-old's latest cookbook Jamie's 30-Minute Meals has become Britain's fastest selling non-fiction book of all time, but it has left a fair few fans feeling angry.

Some people who spent £26 on the book hoping to cut down on time spent in the kitchen claim it is nearly impossible to make any of the dishes in under an hour.

And even experienced cooks have complained online that the meals took up to an hour and a half to make.

Some of the complainers included a group of cooks with the username 'unsatisfied', who wrote on Jamie's official forum: "Jamie, your 30 minute meals are more like 90 minute meals!”

Even with three people cooking them they still CANNOT be done in thirty minutes."


I mean, come on, lets be serious, £26 for a celebrity basic cooking book? Am I mad or are they?

What puzzles me is what is worth while eating that takes only 30 minutes or less to cook? Have none of them eaten a good thick mutton chop?

More to the point, how long does a worth while stock pot take to brew?

Anyone for Scouse?

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Air Miles Zero Airports Below Zero

An airline is a highly complex business, especially if it is a larger one operating in a number of countries. Airports with any amount of traffic and especially hubs are highly complex entities. Between them they generate another class of highly complex activity in the related transport systems of passengers, staff and others.

Last and equal are the highly complex systems of delivery, removal and transportation of a large array of freight and necessary goods and services.

In short the pre-conditions exist for a number of glitches and difficulties at any time. There are other factors, including the financial operations, the way the staff are worked and strategic decisions over levels of spare capacity, backup and margins of error and all the rest.

If the pre-conditions are a permanent feature of flight provision then beyond that is the liability for critical situations to arise at any time in any part of the world. If any of these systems experiences major complications then the effects will transmit easily and quickly to others.

All you need then is a trigger event of one kind or another, internal to external to those systems for systemic failure to occur.

This degree of interacting complexity also means that the whole business of flying etc. is highly vulnerable to other events, either foreseeable or not.

It was not possible to foresee the volcanic eruption earlier this year. It was possible to have some contingency planning and ideas about how to deal with something big that literally came out of the blue.

The weather problems did not come out of the blue, they can happen and if they can happen they will at some time. Also, there was enough information to suggest that the problems could have been serious.

There were some lunatic elements in all this, like South Eastern Railways having its de-icing trains scheduled for maintenance in mid December and Heathrow being short of de-icing fluid.

No doubt around all the other activities one could find matters where lack of staff, lack of awareness and critically lack of both communication or the ability to use initiative or common sense were in evidence.

What does not help is the self destructive and stupid round of blame game amongst those involved and the politicians. Fining airports may look good in the media but the traveller or taxpayer will bear the actual cost.

Because while the major players are blaming each other they are losing sight of other things that materially contributed to the difficulties faced by many passengers.

One that has not received much, if any attention; is the role of the travel insurance companies and brokers. In truth, too many people either do not have insurance, hoping that their “rights” will cover the cost and also many do not look hard enough at the insurance they have bought.

Far too much of this is cheap unreliable stuff bought from shyster companies who will rat with or without excuse and who draft impenetrable micro print terms and conditions that roughly mean that in order to extract money from them is almost impossible and if it is you will have to fight very hard to get it.

Even the better ones are all too prone to play the same sort of game with their clients. Admittedly there is a problem with many people submitting dodgy claims but all too often the insurance companies make matters a lot worse.

It seemed to be a feature of the recent crisis that far too many people were told to travel by the insurance companies when they should never have set foot out of the house in order to justify conditions which might make some sort of sense in ordinary conditions.

To do this in high risk situations making them positively dangerous represented a gross failure of responsibility and management.

If there is some kind of investigation into what went wrong and why this should include a thorough look at the present activities of insurers.

There is a great deal of room for concern here on wider grounds and I suspect the basic trouble is that many of them are operating without anything like the level of reinsurance they should have.

Beyond all that, of course are people. It is common for the public today to be told that almost unlimited foreign travel is some sort of “right” or “necessity”. Also, the media tell them that it is all so easy and everything should work like clock work all the time. The trouble is that it doesn’t and never will.

We now have a population gulled into believing that they can go almost anywhere in the world at will and without worry and without any need to make special provisions or backup arrangements.

There are just too many interacting complexities for that to exist without some sort of disruption somewhere at any time or place. The other question, given the scale of use of scarce resources is whether the world or societies can stand this amount of movement for these purposes indefinitely or for much longer.

So what happens next? Earth may surprise us with something else, or the Sun. Some human event or breakdown could occur or things may just become almost permanently chaotic. Oil prices may lurch up a lot ending cheap travel forever.

If people in Moscow can demonstrate against the consequences of freezing rain then it is clear human understanding is not up to much in the way of reality.

As for Iceland, my theory is that Thor has just dozed off for a bit.

Monday 27 December 2010

Books, Buildings and Backbone

There are two tales in the press today one apparently small, one large about money that more or less tell the same story. That is that over the last couple of decades, and especially after 1997 the public purse became a honey pot for anyone who wanted money and had connections to raid it at their pleasure.

There was the £13 million, now a small figure, but once you could have had a couple of aircraft carriers for that, that was handed over to a group of noisy writers of children’s books to keep them happy.

This was done by giving books away to children to encourage them to read. In the meantime their parents were buying them computer games and designer clothing.

Then there was the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), where all sorts of people were loaded up with vast amounts of cash for setting up the money and advising on the routine business of building public facilities, notably schools.

The cost of this, on borrowed money, has risen it seems from an estimate £51+ billion to £245 billion over the next forty years or so.

You could almost have a new Royal Navy for that, if it were bought on almost any basis except the PFI. Yet this is not news, amongst others “Private Eye” has been nagging away at this one for years without much notice being taken.

Forty years ago when the “Eye” was nagging at John Poulson’s activities in the public building sector the figures involved now seem laughably trivial and Poulson ended up in gaol along with a few others.

What astonishes me about the comparison between these periods are not only the cost figures in terms of the actual structures, which tell you that there has been rampant inflation in the last decade or so in spite of the figures, but the level of take in the added costs and the numbers of people involved.

Yet forty years ago schools, other local government buildings of all sorts, hospitals and medical facilities and the rest all were built and financed on a hugely simpler basis. It would take too long here to go into the detail, but relatively small numbers of people who operated on a limited range of guidelines, managed the inception, process of work and completion of the full range of projects.

Then, it was done locally, with guidelines and parameters set nationally, by staff in regular jobs with modest salaries determined by national scales publicly available in any library. The money side was handled by the local Treasurer as part of the overall local government or service budget.

The level of debt was controlled and the interest rates were set at ordinary levels. Nor were there high cost fancy servicing schemes carrying premium charges for administration and servicing. Clearly, all those involved would liked to have built more new facilities and with more space and the rest but we all understood that there was a limit.

For those of us who were involved in this and putting the buildings up what has been happening is astonishing for the waste, cost and much worse the poorer standards of overall performance and the radical reductions in real provision, notably in the NHS.

There is going to be a terrible price to pay for this disaster and the scale of it and that will not be measured in money alone. What can be done?

One is for the government effectively to default on these schemes and limit any payment to the actual cost of construction. Another is to nationalise all the financial bodies and agencies involved and without compensation and then to reconstitute them in a new form for flotation.

Whatever is done it will have to be soon. With the Prime Minister increasingly looking like Dave The Dodger with his U turns on bad news and reliance on the spin ploy to avoid trouble it looks ominous.

If he backs down when faced by a few shrieking authors of children’s books, I don’t give much for his chances against the heavy hitters in other fields.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Ding Dong Merrily On High

This is a true story. The names are the same. Only the facts have been changed.

“You’re a miserable old Father Christmas, William Pacey, why don’t you get off your backside and go round cheering people up, like you’re supposed to!” Jane was shaking her rag at him but he looked, disconsolate, into the muddy liquid in his pot.

The publican at the “Golden Eagle”, old John Woods, a former paper-miller, still could not get the wort in his brew right, and it was widely suspected that he tipped in the leftovers and spillage at the end of a night.

He felt like telling Jane Allen, the barmaid, just what it reminded him of, but he had to be careful. For all her shouting and rudeness, the next alehouse was a full mile away, a long road with near half a gallon in the belly, and the beer there was too fresh to the taste. There had been talk of the number of early deaths amongst the daily drinkers, it being muttered that there was arsenic in the malting the brewer used.

“Listen Miss Allen,” a touch of respect might get him full measure for a change, “When I were young we had Father Christmas, and only him, as it always had been, and it came down in my family for the village, generation on generation. Now, what have we got? There’s a Santa Claus, a Saint Nicholas, incomers with nasty foreign notions, and the curate says we have to have a Yule Man, like in the real ancient times.

Then the Philo’ thingamajig Society, what ever they are, say its all a silly superstitious nonsense, and they and the chapel goers have joined together to try to put a stop to the whole thing. You can’t cheer up them who don’t want to be cheered. So if I’m spreading a little misery around, it’s what they wants, and so be it.”

Jane ignored him, finished wiping the tables of the dirt, ashes, and the slops, and wrung the dishcloth tight to get rid of the accumulation of wet dirt. William noticed it was over the ale jug, and looked again into his pot. He was about to say a word or two in protest when Jane resumed with the fullness of spirit she needed to keep her customers cowed.

“Go on, its all the modern thing, a bit of competition won’t do you any harm, might make you work harder, and it’s a change from all the old fashioned bump and waddle. You’ll be going to Church I hope?”

William now let his anger overcome his peasant prudence. “Church, oh yes, I’ll be there, I’ll not be welcome in my old green and brown, and I shan’t be able to give voice either now. We’ve all got to sit and listen.” “It’ll be nice, much more seemly and according to

the way it should be, that’s what the curate says. Your rough old shouting carols sounded like the drunken lot you were; not right for a service. And the scraping and wailing of old fiddles in the gallery put an edge on the teeth, for them that have them.

Now we have a real organ played by the new Schoolmaster and a choir we are a decent church, all polite and proper. The Rector put your nose out of joint, but it’s all for the best.” William was about to spit, but times had changed; an accurate sluice of saliva aimed at his special stone in the wall now drew her full reprimand and not admiration.

The thought of having a red-garbed clerk from a drapers shop or any of the other persons who had sought to supplant him as the image of the festive season, aping foreign imports, made him shake. But it may have been the beer; it was getting worse by the month. Soon the publican, who was losing trade, would have to buy from the brewery in the town to persuade the customers to return.

It was the young again, forsaking the rich full porter for the thin acrid new bitter beers spewed out of vats as big as a house, delivered by train, and served by pump machines from behind a counter. It was a strange world he had lived into, they had been stopped from putting dead dogs into the brew, which took away some of the essences vital to a real country taste.

He had tried some of a new beer in the town. It was a wonder, having a fine white head that stayed as long as there was drink in the glass, and not a pot. Someone he knew that worked in the brewery had told him they had a new ingredient to do it. A dose of cobalt made the head and kept the beer looking clean, it was good for you he was told,

The German chemist they had hired had declared it to be so, and it was the latest thing in America. William was not so sure, as the head went a long way down the glass, the serving was well short of the pint he had paid for, and a bright clean beer did not look right. The headache from five pints was as bad as the one from ten of the old beer. It had taken him several sessions to be sure, but he could be as certain as anyone.

It was time for William to go to The Parish Union Workhouse, where there was still a welcome to be had, but only in the Old Men’s Room. Last year, William Pacey had been forbidden the Old Women’s Room after telling his regular tale about the Countess and the Footman. For thirty years he had told it without a protest, causing the bent old women to cackle and wave their charity mittens with joy.

But now, at the beginning of a new century it was not just wrong, it was said to be lacking in taste by the Board of Guardians, men who never told a joke in their lives. Moreover, he had been warned about some of the traditional jests he told to the Old Men. It was very difficult, they did not like the new ones, with all the words and hints and nods. They wanted them direct and the worse the pun the better.

Someone had been creeping to the curate for a few pence from the poor box, and had told him the one about the chambermaid, the vicar, and the upstairs bucket. Despite the instruction, he would try to slip it in again, if only for Old Benjamin’s sake, he had been laughing at that one for all his eighty years, and he deserved it for the seventy years he worked in the fields before his legs went.

The door opened, and a man entered, someone neither William nor any of the others ever expected to see in a public alehouse. It was Sidney Webb from the big house by Passfield Common. “Ah, William, I have been looking for you all over, I need to have a word, if you don’t mind.” William could not mind, as a seller of fish, amongst other things, he could not afford to upset those who paid in cash.

“There has been a meeting amongst the educated persons of the parish about the festive season, and we have come to an agreement, at last.” William did not like the sound of this at all, the educated persons usually behaved like rats in a sack at any meeting that was called. “There is a lot of unnecessary expense, and things which should be put to one side,”

“That means me,” thought William, “and confusion. We have decided to apply the essential principles of economy, social behaviour, and rationalisation to the communal purpose and true principles of Christmas.” “Yes,” said William for the want of anything better. “It is felt by the majority, although there is a minority whose views I entirely respect,”

“Pigging liar,” thought William, “that we should bring together the high European tradition of the season with our own ruder and less adequate habits, with deference to the ancient folk traditions of the Continent which came with our noble Saxon forebears, but were reduced during the long ages of Norman oppression.”

“Oh, bloody get on with it,” muttered William, who had learned a great deal about practical oppression from the Rector, the Webb’s, and the local chapel. Beatrice Webb had a talent for telling people what she thought they ought to be doing. Sidney Webb droned on, he was writing a learned article on the subject, which he was rehearsing in his mind as he spoke to William.

“So we are bringing together your Father Christmas, Mr. Woodger’s Santa Claus, our Rector, the Reverend Sneyd’s St. Nicholas, and the curates, the Reverend Wetenhall, his ancient Yule Swain into one. I am glad to say that this will be the Schoolmaster who has volunteered to give up his family Christmas to help us after the School Managing Body put it the matter to him. He will lend a little dignity and learning, which is as it should be in our local social commonwealth, and it will put an end to the confusion, and the several and various unsuitable persons who have claimed to be in the tradition of the past.”

“When does this start?” asked William who was feeling fuddled in the head. It was not the beer; there had not been enough of that to turn it yet. “Deeply sorry to spring it on you, but actually yesterday, and the Schoolmaster is now at the Workhouse. He will be reciting great poetry, and demonstrating some of the curates newly discovered ancient peoples dances, as well as leading songs, written by my dear wife, based on the improving texts published by Mr. Winskill of Toxteth Park, in his songs for the Temperance Lifeboat Societies; after all it is drink that have taken so many to the Workhouse.

Tomorrow he will be at the local Asylum helping the poor afflicted.” “Yes, Mr. Webb, thank you for troubling to tell me I be not wanted.” said William. Webb caught the suppressed note of hatred in the voice, grimaced a little, wondered about shaking William’s hand but thought better of it, and then hurried out.

No sooner had Webb gone out, than two other men came in, clearly of the gentle classes, and asked at the bar for best porter. To William’s surprise they were given it, but then Jane had asked them for four pence more than the usual price. “Bar maid’s bonus,” she called it, paid by any traveller who she thought worth taking money from.

They had a short conversation with Jane who pointed to William in his Christmas finery. One of them gave her a bright new half crown, and William wondered what was up, Jane would do most things for a shilling, especially if it was good coin, never mind more than a florin. A table was brought, and William was asked if he was hungry.

He said that he was, it had been five hours now since his last meal, and pushing a fish barrow about the parish sharpened the appetite. Bread, good cheese and onions were brought, and he was given a quart pot, it tasted excellent.

The men sat down with William and produced notebooks, and sheets on which to copy music. “I’m Ralph”, said one, “And I’m Percy”, said the other and they began to ask him questions, gently and with a respect in their voices that William appreciated.

William told them the tales he felt able to tell, and those family stories that were more respectable than the truth, and then they asked him to sing. They wanted old songs and tunes, and he had a great fund of them, but William was not saying how he came to know them beyond that he learned them as a boy, they might not give him so much money, and the supply of best porter might dry up.

Some of the tunes came from the new ditties his father had heard in the back rooms of taverns in the local towns many years before direct from the London theatres, some from the songs on sheets and those of the soldiers his great grandfather brought back from London when he came back from the Wars against Napoleon.

Others were older, from a long way back in time. A forebear long past had been a maid-servant at a great house in London and had told of a child piano player from Austria who could write his own pieces, and strewed sheets of music about the floor with a wanton disregard for expense.

She had wrapped all her little keepsakes and treasures in the some of sheets of music to keep them clean, and when she had come back to the village, had married his great great grandfather who had been able to use the tunes.

Some were even older, and one or two said to be from the time when a Mr. Handel, a travelling man from Hanover, was kept at the local inn for days during a snowstorm and amused the locals to pass the time. All that William sang kept both Ralph and Percy occupied whilst they took increasingly smaller sips from their pot. But, they were happy; they kept the porter flowing for William, and food for the table.

The night ended badly for William. He was put on his fish barrow to be taken home, but the man paid to push him was almost as drunk as William, and pitched them both into a fence, William finishing with a bloodied head, covered in filth, and smelling more strongly of old fish than ever. It was unlucky that the house the fence protected had just had a new tenant, one who did not know William, or the village.

But he was a good man and having his own pony and trap, took William into Liphook immediately to see a doctor. Looking at William’s strange form of dress, smelling him, and after listening to his ramblings, the sound and respected doctor, a most responsible and concerned man, had William committed immediately to the County Asylum for his safety and urgent treatment.

Four weeks later, Ralph and Percy were looking at their notes and deciding what to make of it all. Their ideas were different, but they worked well together in the cause of English Folk Music. “What will you want, and what do you think Ralph?” asked Percy. “Well, the best will make an interesting selection of songs, perhaps a Choral Fantasia, even a symphony might be made of some of this, and you?”

“Indeed, a number of songs, perhaps a cantata, certainly varied concert pieces.” They paused for a moment, and Percy turned to Ralph, “And all true English Folk Music from the times long past?”

Ralph thought for a moment. “Indeed, although some are sadly corrupted by modern coarseness. Look at this one, a wonderful tune, but the lyric is quite dreadfully treated. He is a carter, she is a village tart who offers him her red cherry, they couple on the back of a cart, he on top of her, he farts, she laughs, the horse starts, they fall off, and he breaks a leg.

Obviously, the original would have been along the lines that he drove a cart, is offered a cherry tart by a sweet village maiden, he falls in love with a start, but sadly she breaks his heart. This would be much closer to the original.”

The Boxing Day of the following year saw William, with two attendants close behind him, sat in front of the Superintendent of the Asylum, Dr. William Palmer, and Dr. William Rivers, his deputy. “And you were doing so well,” said the Superintendent, “the smell had gone, you were sober and industrious again, and then this happened. Why did you throw the chair at the Schoolmaster; when he was only trying to amuse you for Christmas Day?”

William tried to explain, the man was wearing red which was silly, his dances came from the curate’s holiday in Wales from some local clerks and shopkeepers who dressed up and pretended they were Druids, his jokes from old editions of “Punch”, and the songs, they were all terribly wrong.

The Superintendent asked him to explain, but as he did so William became angry again, and made the mistake of giving his own versions. Also, in the Asylum he had become unused to the ordinary daily courtesies of verbal communication, and was verbose, confused and too forthright in trying to explain himself.

After a while the doctors looked at each other, it was a bad business; it was a large chair that William had thrown. “I think he needs a few months under restraint, again”, said Dr. Rivers, who liked to give the impression of being firm. The attendants dragged William away, and as he was taken through the door he began to sing his song about the carter, and the doctors winced.

“Appearances can be very deceptive, we have to be so careful” said the Superintendent. “Oh by the way, are you going to the concert at the Town Hall tonight? There is a new piece being tried by the Choral Society, a collection of Old English Folk Songs collected by Percy Grainger and Ralph Vaughan Williams. “Songs of a Hampshire Wayfarer”. It will be good to hear something that is true and good for the nobility of mind.”

Rivers nodded his agreement, “Oh indeed I will! Very promising, I’m told, and the essence of the best of English tradition.” As he pushed William’s file into the back of the cupboard he added an afterthought, “It is a pity that the Schoolmaster won’t be there, but it’s an ill wind that blows no good, he almost the worst tenor I’ve ever heard, but a shame that Pacey can’t take his place, he has a good ear for a tune and a natural voice.”

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Seasons Greetings, Trains and Planes.

Trains and Planes

Dave and Doris, The Blonde Blunderbuss, were doing their Christmas Special at the new West Ham United stadium yesterday. Unluckily we were not treated to the WHU and Millwall football fans traditional comedy routine involving the Met’ Police.

What we did have was the spectacle of a group of small children being dragged out on a bitter night to work on a photo opportunity for politicians in a spot of bother. They were herded together to take the hand of Dave to let there be light. “Suffer little children” comes to mind.

The excuse was that as for a brief period in 2012 there will be the Olympic Games there, there had to be a huge shindig to celebrate that the lights were working. Unluckily, not all could be there, because the Stratford International High Speed station was closed because of the weather conditions.

In my view this was certainly flagrant child abuse and made worse by the fact that some of the children were wearing clothing that clearly was not produced by any of the games sponsors.

According to the new laws of England required by the International Olympics Committee, an unelected and unloved body of unknowables, this was a crime, if not against humanity, then the more deserved cause of commerce. Why were no arrests made on the spot?

As Dave was doing this to help people forget the football World Cup fiasco in Zurich, despite Doris insisting on having a good whinge he could not be at the House of Commons to announce that the new HS2 High Speed service was to go ahead.

As there are other travel issues at the moment he left the Transport Minister, Philip Hammond, to carry the can and face the music, as it is Christmas and someone has to. He is in the tricky situation of telling us about the wonder of 2025 when almost a million railway travellers and others seem to be stranded now somewhere or other.

Not only is the HS2 going to lose the Conservatives their majorities in a number of safe seats where it is built but the costs and the priority of it will wreck much in the way of improvements to existing services.

There have been plenty of critics pointing out the errors of the project but as it will entail a lot of money being lent by financial firms to be paid off by the government (taxpayer) over the next century then it is deemed essential to growth..

The government insists that it will cost only £17 billion and be delivered on time it has to be done. As an old hand I can promise that it will exceed £100 billion, be very late and useful to only an elite user base.

In the meantime at St. Pancras the HS1 service and the Eurostar trains were in serious difficulties and their services had descended into chaos. Thousands of people were milling about going nowhere and knowing nothing. Across the road at Kings Cross the situation was no better.

There the line was shut between Stevenage and Peterborough stranding thousands of passengers. In the days of steam or diesel it would have been possible to re-route the trains and for the journeys to be completed although with some delays. Elsewhere there were other horror stories, with South Eastern Rail featuring yet again.

The problem at the moment is that links and compatibility between existing East Coast and East Anglian lines are not there so the electric trains cannot go along the other tracks available. This and many other possible improvements are now off the agenda because of HS2.

There is also chaos at Heathrow. Sam, wife of Dave, was cross when he cancelled the holiday in Thailand or somewhere but must now be a lot happier. Downing Street is a drab sort of place, but a lot better than the floors of the various Terminals at Heathrow inhabited by an increasing proportion of the UK population.

The airport is owned by BAA which is owned by Ferrovial of Spain. Some critics have pointed out that this companies airports seem to be much worse affected than others by the present weather problems. They suggest that the financial requirements which are the core of its operations might have something to do with this.

The air services in and out of these airports are run on very tight turn round, landing and departure timings. There is little flexibility, backup or spare capacity either in their operations, management or communications. So when things do go wrong then it does not take a lot for it to go bad bigtime.

The reasons for all this lie in the quasi religious dogmas dictating modern finance and management. These insist on a dependence on highly leveraged finance in which the rate of return is critical and assets must be worked to their limits in the short term.

It explains the increasingly frantic nature of the public relations exercises to persuade us all that this is the way it has to be. In the coming months Dave and Doris are going to have to do some serious work on their act if they are going to make it to the next show.

In politics it is not good enough to simply travel hopefully, you really do have to make the trains, and planes, run on time.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Idol On Parade, Finance, Philosophy & Rock & Roll

This is an item of contrasts, mixing an interesting post from Zero Hedge about a lack of awareness with a question about why people might forget about the past even when it was in the mainstream of Pop culture.

The Zero Hedge one concerns beliefs in relation to the risks of inflation. Note the comment on the use of CPI in relation to the shift of the UK government into using this form of index to measure inflation.

Another comment in the Zero Hedge part might apply to considering the travel chaos arising out the present weather conditions is under On Idol Of The Den about the average person underestimating the nature of potential disaster.


Idols Of The Unaware
Michael Victory

Does the average person understand what central bankers globally are doing to money? Do they realize inflation is about to cause crisis in America?

I suppose the answer is no, however they will likely soon feel the effects.

Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist and author. Bacon developed a reliable method of questioning he believed would free people from dependence on infrequent geniuses (Ozmon & Craver, 2008).

He encouraged individuals to develop alternative methods of thought. According to Ozmon &Craver (2008), Bacon believed that “knowledge is power”, and devised what he called the “inductive method.”

Bacon’s inductive approach insists on confirmation of specifics before reaching conclusions. Bacon urged people to reexamine all previously accepted knowledge. He believed people should free their minds of various “idols”.

Three of Bacon’s idols, according to Ozmon & Craver, (2008):

Idol of the Den:

People believe things because of their own limited experiences.

Idol of the Tribe:

People tend to believe things because most people believe them.

Idol of the Marketplace:

This idol deals with language because Bacon believed that words often are used in ways that prevent understanding.

On Idol of the Den:

The average person underestimates the possibility of a disaster and its effects. They believe since something has never happened before it never will. We are all guilty of this as it is human nature.

On Idol of the Tribe:

The idea of a currency collapse or hyperinflation is alien to the average person. They are likely unaware of such an event. If they watch a major television network, they are likely to trust an economic recovery is underway.

On Idol of the Marketplace:

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a government statistic that measures consumer goods and services prices, and is used to gauge inflation in the United States.

What is interesting about CPI is that it fails to recognize rising prices of food and energy. What? The cost of food and energy are not considered by government as indicators of overall inflation?

Talk about unclear language that restricts understanding.

Warning Signs

Worldwide quantitative easing is flooding global money supply. This money is chasing fewer goods as more and more of the world’s population ramps up consumption.

Predictably, this will lead to higher prices. It is happening now, as we are already seeing food and energy prices rise significantly with price increases of 30% or more year-over-year.

Another sign of coming fiscal problems, which ultimately leads to more monetary quantitative easing, is continued uncontrolled spending of federal, state and local governments.

As more money is spent, more needs to be created to monetize the debt. Quantitative easing and monetizing are trouble. Especially with a measuring stick now segmented in trillions.

Monetizing will ultimately overwhelm purchasing power of everyone holding U.S. dollars, and dollar denominated assets. Inflation is set to occur at an alarming rate.

Drink Upstream

Francis Bacon urged people to reexamine previously accepted knowledge, and believed people should attempt to liberate their minds of the assorted idols. Bacon encouraged individuals to develop an alternative method of thought (Ozmon & Craver, 2008).

Is there a chance the prediction of extreme future inflation is inaccurate? Yes, and I genuinely hope it is. This piece isn’t really about if I’m right or wrong.

It’s about preparation and identifying the possibilities, because it seems likely economic recovery will not take place anytime soon. It should be easy to see, the signs are all around us.

I reckon it’s still not a bad time to pick up a few pounds of extra rice, tins of tobacco and some junk silver. It is without a doubt a time to heed Francis Bacon’s remarks, to free our minds and think independently.

Ozmon, H. A. & Craver, S. M. (2008). Philosophical foundations of education (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.


The heading is the title of a 1959 film which was great fun and very popular in its time, boosting the career of a number of British and other actors. Yet it does not seem to have appeared on TV and there seems to be no DVD.

The information is on the web and the IDMB user reviews give an idea of how much enjoyment it gave to many people. Also, it throws an interesting light on the hows and whys of British Rock at the time.

Wny has it simply been forgotten and discarded despite all the star names and both its period feel and quality?

It may be that it simply does not fit the legend propagated by the present Media about how Rock etc. came to be in the UK and in particular it was the Sixties that mattered, the Fifties were a dark age of deference and strict morals.

They weren’t and for that matter neither were the Forties.

If we can do this with part of our Rock and Pop history it is easy to see just why we manage to get so much wrong and make so many disastrous mistakes.

Friday 17 December 2010

Time Goes By


You know that you are old when……..

The “Help The Aged” charity collectors on the street no longer ask you for contributions.

No one wants to sell you insurance policies.

Someone ignores you but tells your spouse that their parent is looking quite well for their age.

Junk mail is something that keeps you in touch with things.

Every morning your head feels terrible despite being sober or not the night before.

You ask a Chelsea supporter if Madonna had a good game; and then you tell him why the team of 1955 were a great deal better than the present one, just to cheer him up.

All the day’s programmes on the History and Biography channels deal with subjects within your living memory.

None of the plots in any of the “soaps” is new to you.

Recalling what a nuisance STD was to you in the past you forget to say that you are referring to the pre-digital telephone Subscriber Trunk Dialling system.

The nights always seem to be getting longer, and so do the days.

The quart of ale that took a short time to drink and a long time to lose now works to an inverse ratio.

Shoelaces are a bad idea.

The hours parking charge you have just paid is more than your first week’s wages.

Before you get anywhere, your feet start to hurt.

Telling young people how eccentric, unpredictable, and difficult your parents were, they begin to look at each other.

At the end of the day the number of things you intended to do is exceeded by the number of things that did not get done.

At the restaurant you ask for a starter of bread and dripping.

Securing the senior citizen concessions is more important than your pride.

Your grandparents turned out to be right.

Going to bed each night you feel tired, stiff, and aching, but when you get up it is even worse.

Reading a glossy magazine you think that the Rolling Stones look older than you do.

You are unwilling to admit you never used a computer during your working life.

At a concert the programme notes tell you that all the composers listed lived much shorter lives than you have.

Your relations stop asking when you are going to grow up.

The girl of your dreams is no longer a beautiful barmaid but a nurse who knows how to insert a catheter properly.

Heaving cases around is too much trouble so you don’t bother to go away.

At the health shop you ask for some orgiastic chocolate.

On telling people that you did National Service they think you were convicted for anti-social behaviour, and you enjoy their apologies when you explain that it meant serving your country.

You never tell people that you were court-martialled for gross insubordination, going absent without leave, missing parades, drunk and disorderly conduct, improper use of a main battle tank and other military equipment, and goosing the Colonel’s wife.

Your spouse prefers to talk about TV archaeology programmes when you move closer in bed.

At a large wedding reception you are the only one there who saw Tommy Lawton head a goal.

Airline food tastes good.

You are spending longer at the doctors and hospital clinics than down at the pub.

Your IQ is declining faster than your bank balance.

It makes you laugh to recall how proud you were of your teenage outfit of oxblood leather brogue shoes, chocolate brown twill trousers, green Harris Tweed jacket, white starched collar shirt, striped old school tie, and woolly tartan scarf. Then they remind you that your style is unchanged.

Other drivers misunderstand your old Highway Code hand signals for obscene gestures.

Poetry has some meaning.

Your family asks you to stop calling your new battery operated wet razor a vibrator. So, on family occasions you enjoy telling people that you use a vibrator at least every morning and often just before you go out.

Some of the people keeping warm and dry at the library have gone straight from college into early retirement.

At 3 a.m. when your spouse finds you watching TV it really is a cartoon channel.

You kick stones along the pavement again.

If nobody is watching you see from how far you can hit a lamp post with a gob of spit.

Telling youngsters that Frankie Laine and Guy Mitchell were much better than the Beatles, they ask who the Beatles were.

In a City of London pub you are the oldest in the bar by forty years.

Someone offers you a seat on a Tube train.

When you look in the mirror you see the uncle who was never invited to family parties, but always turned up to teach the kids how to cheat at cards and dice.

Your young relations often forget to ask you to family occasions, and complain when you teach their kids the computer hacking, martial arts, and graffiti tagging skills they need nowadays.

Waking up in the morning you cannot work out if it is tomorrow or yesterday.

The people presenting the funeral plan advert’s on TV look too young for the job.

You still wear the top part of your pyjamas, and at mid-day you are still wearing them.

The Chief Constable looks like a teenager.

You have to keep your own medical records because your NHS ones have been deleted by their computer’s automatic archive control function on the grounds that you are deceased.

People laugh when you assure them that loose-leaf tea makes a better brew than tea bags.

You finally go on a coach holiday having avoided them because of all those old people and find you are the oldest on the coach.

No friends of your childhood or youth respond to your details on Internet contact sites.

The bad knee changes legs from day to day.

At a Wake the deceased looks in better health than you do.

At the Museum the 1930-1950 Display showing the poor living conditions of the lower income groups reminds you of families much better off than yours at the time.

You fancy sixty year old’s.

You have conversations with automatic telephone answering systems.

The name of the scorers in tonight’s crucial game escape you but you recall every detail of the first TV Cup Final of 1950 when serious errors of judgement by the linesmen and outrageous refereeing decisions robbed Liverpool of the game against Arsenal.

At the gym the staff check out the resuscitation equipment when you sign in.

On motorways other drivers begin to overtake you.

Pensioners staggering across pedestrian crossings cause you to brake instead of accelerate.

Reading books on Modern History tells you that you got it all totally wrong, and so did every one else of your generation. The information is used to prove you were always right.

Hot weather keeps you at home, and so does cold weather.

All the events mentioned in obituaries are very familiar.

Train timetables reveal their inner meaning, but you cannot remember the times of the trains.

You wear jeans hoping that people will think you are only in your sixties.

At a christening you assume, wrongly, that the happy parents are married. Much worse, you assume that the man is the father.

You prefer the Departure Lounges at Heathrow to attending any kind of meeting.

Grand Opera makes sense.

Even ballet makes sense.

Either ticking the box for your age group always means going to the bottom of the list or the drop down for your year of birth on the web site does not go back long enough.

None of your old clothes fit, and the shops do not stock any that do.

Dentists start smiling when they look in your mouth.

Doctors stop smiling when you enter their surgery.

You keep sitting on your glasses.

The joke that went down so badly at a party was one you first heard behind the bike sheds when you were fourteen, and you still think it is funny.

The sound is either too loud or not quite loud enough.

At a gathering you make it clear to everyone in the room individually and several times that you cannot stand old people who talk too much.

Everything takes three times longer than it should do.

And lastly:

You can’t remember what you have forgotten.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Winter Is A'Cumen In

You need to be knocking on a bit to recall the winter of 1962-1963 and more to have much of a memory of 1946-1947. There is material online dealing with this and that, for the most part either personal or some of the worst events.

I was relatively lucky both times. No car to worry about and living within short walking distance of work, shops and other facilities, including rail stations at the time of steam. In those days along the line of supply at all stages there were stocks held and much of what we ate came from shorter distances.

In general economic terms, however, both of these winters came at bad times. The 1947 winter was a particular case. The UK was in serious economic trouble after World War Two. Because there was so little to consume and severe rationing was in place for many goods there was little to cut there. The War had run down public services so badly that there was not much left at the margins.

The consequence was a major setback to the economy, a political disaster for the Labour Party, coming just 18 months after an election where promises had been made. Because of the scale and nature of other problems of the period the impact of the severe weather on several margins of economic activity at the time has never been fully weighed up or judged against these other problems.

The 1962-1963 bad winter was different in scope. However, a Conservative Government that had won re-election by upping spending in 1959 was now in the situation of trying to control and correct rising inflation and major balance of trade issues, amongst other serious problems.

The economic impact of this winter was more severe in some ways. Notably, this was on consumption spending by now a much larger feature of the economy. But it hit badly on those parts of the economy where the government had tried to drive up activity.

In a world without credit cards and banks being obliged to operate strict credit controls the cost of the winter to the ordinary people had a large impact on overall spending. Food prices shot up and household fuel spending rocketed with an immediate impact on other spending.

If we do have a long cold and difficult winter it will not be easy to work out what would be the overall effect in 2010-2011. This is especially the case as so many government and other indices have been manipulated to tell other stories. If the evidence is thin for past winters it may be non-existent for this one.

It may be that all the pessimism about what the weather conditions are likely to be in the next month or two may be wrong. But bad winters can and do happen from time to time. In 1946-47 in some respects we were more ready and had the labour to deal with some of the worst. 1962-1963 was more troublesome in some ways but there was still enough flexibility and expertise to deal with many things.

This time round if it is a bad one at that kind of level it is possible that we no longer have the labour, the expertise or the facilities to deal with it properly. Cameron needs to have a key committee and other government emergency advisers looking at this one if he isn’t going to go the way of Attlee and Macmillan.

Monday 13 December 2010

Infectious Or Contagious?

When I was in the British Army of Occupation in Germany the European Unity idea seemed a good thing as long as the Americans and the Brit’s were directly in charge. At the time we even thought that if the locals were allowed to work together on their coal and steel production it would be of use to us.

Sadly, our period of direct control ended and when it did The Treasury cut the rate of exchange for the UK Armed Service personnel in pounds to the new DM in Germany by 40%. We should have regarded this as a bad omen. Since then it has all gone down hill and down market.

After our failure to rebrand the Empire as a Commonwealth held together by The City in the Sterling Area and to compete with the USA in the America’s and other places we surrendered to the New Europe in the 1970’s and dumped The Commonwealth.

More by accident than design we kept the pound sterling if not the Sterling Area and this was kept afloat by the discovery of North Sea Oil and Gas. In the meantime our neighbours invented the Euro.

This was because it was apparent that even a united Europe could not stop the French, Italians and Spanish from serious mismanagement of their currencies. At the time I suggested that the Euro was essentially a vehicle without a reverse gear or reliable steering and brakes.

Like others who shared my view I was dismissed as an ignoramus entirely lacking in vision and belief and with a tawdry attitude of expecting things to work properly. This is why I regarded those hyping the Euro as about as reliable as salesmen selling British cars of the 1970’s.

Now the fuses are blowing in European finance and the Euro is under stress we wonder what is going on. If you ask what will become of it and feel that at present none of it is quite logical and that those at the top are mostly distraught or drunk, then you are not alone.

In fact, there is expert opinion on the matter:

It is titled “The Eurozone In Bad Need Of A Psychiatrist”.

Not quite in the best of taste but indicative, as they say.

Friday 10 December 2010

Demonstrations For Dummies

This item has attempted to reduce the real issues to the bare bones. For that reason the word “Police” covers all police and supporting agencies.

The word “Others” covers all those engaging in demonstrations and similar actions whether they are simply peaceful protestors, activists or extremists. They can overlap a great deal depending on the issues and what happens on the day.

There is a substantial and complex history to demonstrations and protest which I have simply taken as read. Going into this would make it far too long.

It is my view that in the last decade the balance has now shifted in favour of the Others. The Police and related authorities are now in a retreat from control of the streets and urban areas. This has serious implications, is simply not understood by Politicians or Police or Media and will need some radical thinking and changes to redress the new balance of power on the streets.

Over much of the 20th Century we were led to assume that the Police could and should control situations. This was dependent on certain kinds of systems and organisation of the period that have now been overtaken. Before the 20th Century there were major differences and often it was the military that were used.

Command and Control

The Police have a highly stratified hierarchical multi level system of command in which at each level individuals are constrained to limited function within a closely defined sphere of activity. Consequently the transmission of orders and advice downward is through a series of contacts that all have to function. Upward servicing of information, advice and interpretation, however, is variable and subject to filters.

This does not apply to the Others who will have very few levels, only self imposed constraints and limitations and will have a high degree of flexibility and responsive contact. Within small areas they will be more mobile and will not be contained by any defined boundaries.

The Others will decide to do what they will do at any level sometimes with reference to others, sometimes not. What this might be can vary greatly from initial intentions or planning. Their operations, objectives and organisation can be fluid not simply within days but within minutes depending on the ground of their actions.


In the last decade the ability of ordinary people with limited incomes to both transmit and receive complicated messages and data has been transformed. It is possible to have immediate interaction and communication across distances instantly. This means possibilities might be discussed and amendments and changes to plans and intentions can happen with immediate effect.

The situation now is that the Others are better equipped and more capable of inter communication and altering arrangements than are the Police who are limited to the services provided by their public sector bureaucratic administration. The Others are better informed and indeed have a much greater communication capability.

Additionally, as well as in the immediate situation the scope of movement, power to make contact 24/7 and the information storage and transmission facilities enable the Others to plan and organise as effectively as the Police and because of the lack of limitation in their structures more extensively if they wish.


The Police are subject to tightly defined and complex rules of engagement and for the most part will act as large groups. To a great extent they will be rule based and very limited in their scope of action and response. Also, afterwards they will be answerable to a range of public interest bodies which may or may not be sympathetic.

It is now common for the Police and connected public services to fail to take action or to allow lives to be lost or risked because of the complex rules of control when faced with serious situations. The London 7/7 events when they held back when people were dying in agony and many similar recent events are now the norm

The Others can attempt to take whatever action they wish to and can change their basis immediately and without reference to others, legal constraints or concern for later political or media criticism. They will not be subject to inquiries unless they agree to and they are often at little risk of loss of employment.

Both the Police and Others may find themselves facing legal action of one kind or another. However, while this is adverse for the Police it may be welcomed by some Others as part of their publicity and propaganda.

The way the modern media works it is the Police that will have to explain every action in detail but the Others are much more able to avoid enquiry. As a consequence of the nature form and intention of regulation it is now the rule for the Police as far as possible to avoid action that may incur criticism.


The present situation means higher levels of risk, less capability in maintaining order on the streets either for demonstrations or other events. The weaknesses in the command and control of the Police are leading to a high rate of error and failure. Under pressure there are frequent breakdowns.

The advantage now lies with the Others and inevitably the criminal elements now more widespread, wealthy, better organised and financed.

At the same time increased demands are being made. The leaking of the terms of the contract with the IOC and the demand for the 2012 Olympic Games made by them are likely to create an impossible situation for the Metropolitan Police under present conditions.

My post of Tuesday 12 May 2009 expressed a number of concerns:

This and other events and challenges are likely to make demands that our present Police, related services and organisations are unable to meet on their present basis.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Training Students For The Future



As part of its ongoing reformulation of structures and engineering of social capability and responsiveness to a fast changing challenge in the learning environment the Faculty of Humanity and Science has created a new degree course. This has been achieved by the internal readjustment of revenue and capital flows.

Those students presently enrolled in the Physics, Chemistry, Modern Languages, European History, Classics and Philosophy courses will be reallocated with credits for modules that either have been completed or would have been if the student in question can be deemed to be present.

The new course is as follows:


B. Sc. In “Railway Observation And Analysis”

First Year Course

Spatial Analysis in Linear Perception
Configuration of Platforms for Flow Mathematics
History of Railway Provision
Development Economics of Rail Systems
Structures of Form and Avoidance of Legal Constraints

Second Year Course

The Elements of Movement and Distance
Recording Techniques and Numerical Awareness
Directional Learning and Acquisition
Applied Complex Movement
Basic Sound Communication Elements

Third Year Course

Practical Climatic Change, Chaos and Collapse Dynamics
Photographic and Related Technical Basics
Advanced Communication Failure Techniques
Public Relations and Animal Herding Studies
Software Systems and Breakdown Theory

Fourth Year Course

This will be based on the presentation of a Dissertation extending Third Year course work with special reference to Climate Change, Chaos, Communication Limitations and Human Deresourcing. This will be based on Field Work to be undertaken at Clapham Junction, West Hampstead, Willesden and Old Oak Common.

The successful completion of the course will entitle the graduate to access on designated rail stations and termini for the purpose of enumeration of rail stock.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Taking The Temperature

Just how bad could the winter be? Wikipedia has entries on “Winter of 1946-1947 In The United Kingdom” as well as “Winter of 1962-1963 In The United Kingdom”. There have been other difficult ones as well, although some more regional in scope.

They deserve reading and some thought. In those days, however, there were far more men to hand to do the shovelling and distribution systems were not just-in-time but had substantial storage facilities as a necessary part of the business.

As the Minister for Fuel and Power, Emmanuel Shinwell found out, if you took the risk that the winter would be a mild one it would not simply be embarrassing, it could destroy the credibility of your party.

At the time when Shinwell was deciding not to press for increased coal production this article appeared in the Manchester Guardian when it was still based in that City. It is not about the United Kingdom, it is about Germany.



Postwar Germany: a place of horror

JP Hogan
Thursday October 30, 1947

In the square in front of the station, a few lamps shed pale incandescence over the deserted pavements below, emphasising the desolation and dereliction. I floundered over pavement edges with the aid of a torch.

I would shy at the approach of a glowing cigarette-end. I knew, well enough, that human lips held the cigarette, that human feet propelled the wooden shoes.

But there are times when it is hard to believe what one knows; and in Oberhausen I could never be sure that I was not a dead man among the dead in a dead town.

The platform was just light enough for one to see that an enormous crowd of men, women, and children had congregated, with suitcases and portmanteaux and sacks.

They are "hamsterers", town-dwellers who go into the country to "scrounge" potatoes, fruit and vegetables. "Hamstern" means to hoard; but in Germany today it means to take the requisite action to keep body and soul together.

In Oberhausen (and probably elsewhere) secondary schools were closing on Saturdays in October so that the children might go and get potatoes wherever and however they could.

Rolf had not expected to see this crowd; he had brought me to see the returning "hamstering" train from the country districts between Hamm and Hanover. But this crowd, from the easy way they swung their suitcases, was obviously at the beginning of its journey.

Then a loudspeaker announced that the train from Hanover was already over a hundred minutes late.

Almost as he spoke the German voice, announced the night train from Cologne to Hanover was approaching.

The train drew in. Every compartment and every inch of corridor was already crammed, but this did not deter the people on the platform.

Within a few seconds men were already on the roof, on the buffers, between, the coaches, on the running-boards.

The occupants, if charitable, opened the windows. I saw women handing in their babies and husbands their wives, themselves following as best they could.

The Ruhr today, if you like facades, is a place where children play boisterously, in streets that are not unlike Stockport and Bolton, Rochdale and Oldham, if you discount the rubble.

But under it all is hunger and horror: in the hundred and one secret places of the Ruhr, thousands know that the coming winter will bring them little soup, less fuel, and no hope.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006


We need to remember that the Atlantic Isles occupy only a small part of the globe. So whether climate change is going one way or another or whether there are just shifts in existing patterns it could happen that we could be in for colder conditions for a while.

Or we might not.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Irish Mists In Economists

This story possibly has been going around in one form for another for a little while. As the one that arrived in my mail box was based in Ireland, I repeat it below.

It is something that might be told to each other by misty eyed Irish and other Keynesian economists in the hope that there are angels out there somewhere. But it is possible that the reality may differ.

So first I give the tale and then I give one which may be much nearer the truth in these difficult times. On BBC News a few minutes ago from Dublin dealing with new budgetary measures an Irish presenter commented “The government has a majority of roughly two.”


The Tale Of A Tourist:

It is a slow day in a damp little Irish town. The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the town, stops at the local hotel and lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night.

The owner gives him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the €100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the €100 note and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer.

The pig farmer takes the €100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel.

The guy at the Farmers' Co-op takes the €100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the pub.

The publican slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer him "services" on credit.

The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the €100 note.

The hotel proprietor then places the €100 note back on the counter so the rich traveller will not suspect anything.

At that moment the traveller comes down the stairs, picks up the €100 note, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money, and leaves town.

No one produced anything. No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism.


In reality the course of events in Ireland would be more like this:

The hotelier uses agency staff paid cash up front. In any case the account manager at his Irish bank has laid down stringent conditions for the repayment of any credits and the butcher is low on the list.

The butcher is now a franchise in a just in time international meat firm. Unluckily the software supplied to him has crashed and he is unable to function. The firm sources its meat from Poland. It is flown into Knock where Hail Mary’s are said over the pallets and then repackaged as Organic Irish Vintage Meat.

The pig farmer is in difficulty. He knocked down the old house to replace it with a ten bedroom Florida style mansion on a mortgage of ten times his gross earnings from a Scottish bank funded from Iceland. He overstated his earnings to get the mortgage.

The farm is now a collection of intensive rearing sheds built on an EU grant coupled to a private equity deal. The financier was hoping for a 25% rate of return on the investment. The meat prices are now undercut by Polish and Venezuelan suppliers..

The Co-operative changed from being Mutual to a limited company. It was then taken over by a UK combine who sold it on to a New York property speculator who also sold it on. Ownership is now in dispute between a finance company in Hong Kong and an Australian Media Group looking to diversify.

The publican lost his trade because of smoking bans and high taxes on alcohol and his inn is now a clandestine money laundering and people trafficking centre.

The local prostitute has founded an employment agency which charges unusually high fees for supplying female secretarial assistants and personal aides to Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

This is the agency that also supplies the hotel staff.

The German tourist’s wealth which allows him to afford to travel in Ireland comes from the bonuses arising from his work as a consultant corporate lawyer in foreclosure and insolvency cases.

He tells the hotelier that he will be receiving a visit from the Russian Debt Collection agency he employs in difficult cases.


My Great Aunt Lily (born Elizabeth) ran a hotel in County Kildare when she married an Irish hotelier. So which version are you betting on?

Monday 6 December 2010

Topshop Bottom Dollar

When the rent-a-crowd demonstrators and more modern flash mob media grabbers take to the streets, I often wish they did not because they more often confuse the issues and lead the debate into directions it should not go. The recent events relating to tuition fees for students and Sir Philip Green’s Topshop are both cases in point.

Polly Toynbee was amongst those at the Oxford Street Topshop but perhaps she was simply looking to get a good price on the Topshop offer of a Nude Love Panel Body, Animal Flippy Shorts and Pink Mesh Swirly Sequin Sleeveless Crop Top for the Guardian Winter Solstice Party.

The problem with tuition costs is university financing as a whole and the level of provision that there should be. The students and some politicians who really ought to know better who assert that it should be “free” are talking nonsense. Nothing is “free” in our modern money based world there are always costs that have to be paid.

The costs may not be obvious. The old economic concept of “opportunity cost” has been forgotten. The cost of me sitting here doing this is the other things I might have done, some of which might entail earning money or services or goods in exchange for whatever I did.

What the students and their supporters claim is that others should be paying for their university education either in full or in part. At the same time we have been led to believe that some 50% of our labour force should be graduates. So where was the money to come from? Not only should they be graduate, but it should be the norm for them to be away from home.

So they leave spare bedrooms back in one place and now large areas of rented housing are student dominated. Does nobody see the economic costs of this alone for broader society? We have the same people complaining about the shortage of housing, yet the size and nature of higher education is one of the factors in creating the shortage and driving up rentals.

Then there are the ghosts at the feast. There is little or no suggestion of any parental responsibility or for that matter of grandparents, some of whom are property rich as the beneficiaries of past inflation. Most students are “poor” in the sense that they have no earnings or title to wealth yet but in many cases the families are not.

The complications in any grant system are how much, to whom and on what basis. In the grants systems of the past, theoretically based on parental ability to pay, there were many curiosities. Those in regular PAYE and ordinary jobs would be supported according to size of income.

But this did not differentiate between those who had started with nothing who were caught when they most needed to save and those who already had certain holdings. Moreover, parents whose “income” was what their accountants said it was after some creative work could be made to be income poor.

I recall one landed family with a large estate whose student youngsters were on full grants as well as many business men who were either self employed or owners.

One way or another it involves the taxpayer, or rather those paying tax. This brings us to Topshop. Sir Philip Green, much admired for his business acumen, has been picked out for attention. He did well in riding the heights of our recent debt driven consumer boom. Now he is asked to help us all take the fall.

The trouble is that along with very large numbers of other wealthy people he has benefited from the money changing industry that has allowed the most wealthy to make tax payments in the UK largely optional. The distinction made, of which Pecksniff would be proud, between “avoidance” and “evasion” in this complicated field is technical.

Our previous government allowed the creation of a very large financial industry devoted to tax avoidance/evasion as well as encouraging foreign ownership of UK assets that had much the same effect. At the same time it did little about evasion amongst the very rich. The present one seems unlikely to impact on this.

The irony after the football fiasco in Zurich of Nestle moving its newly acquired subsidiary Cadbury top management elements to that town for tax purposes seems to have been lost on much of the media.

Because I recall the pernicious and damaging effects of high taxation of the post war period which lasted until the 1970’s I believe in the objective of low rates of taxation. But I believe in all those earning in the UK and from UK assets being obliged to pay their share for the common good.

If the high earners and the wealthy are absolved then clearly the lower income groups are going to have to endure rather higher levels. If this is the case then the implication of this is that the lowest earners, many non-graduate will be paying a disproportionate amount to support the higher education sector.

It is from this sector that some of the future wealthy is likely to emerge and on the present pattern a goodly proportion of them will not be paying much UK tax.

Something here does not quite fit. Paradoxically, amongst the demonstrators are many who are likely to benefit most from the situation at the expense of us all.

I hope Polly got a good discount on her store card. She would need it if she was paying interest on the account, which is one reason why Topshop was doing so well.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Chips Without Fish

In looking at those resources that have peaked in production and will either decline in terms of actual totals or in relation to expanding demand there is this 576 word item on fish.

The issue is not new; there have been anxieties and action in recent years that have had a major effect on the UK fishing and allied industries. What the article does is to claim that the catch has now reached its limit.

What is annoying is instead of sticking to the issue of sustainability in terms of the rate of extraction the article mentions climate change. This is another matter and can confuse the debate on the actual fisheries policy.

If any other issues are mentioned they might be what is happening to fresh water fisheries and the increasing levels of contamination in those and in the oceans.


E Science News - Published: Thursday, December 2, 2010

'No fish left behind' approach leaves Earth with nowhere left to fish:

University of British Columbia researchers
Published: Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Earth has run out of room to expand fisheries, according to a new study led by University of British Columbia researchers that charts the systematic expansion of industrialized fisheries.

In collaboration with the National Geographic Society and published today in the online journal PLoS ONE, the study is the first to measure the spatial expansion of global fisheries.

It reveals that fisheries expanded at a rate of one million sq. kilometres per year from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s. The rate of expansion more than tripled in the 1980s and early 1990s – to roughly the size of Brazil's Amazon rain forest every year.

NB: View the study at

Between 1950 and 2005, the spatial expansion of fisheries started from the coastal waters off the North Atlantic and Northwest Pacific, reached into the high seas and southward into the Southern Hemisphere at a rate of almost one degree latitude per year.

It was accompanied by a nearly five-fold increase in catch, from 19 million tonnes in 1950, to a peak of 90 million tonnes in the late 1980s, and dropping to 87 million tonnes in 2005, according to the study.

"The decline of spatial expansion since the mid-1990s is not a reflection of successful conservation efforts but rather an indication that we've simply run out of room to expand fisheries," says Wilf Swartz, a PhD student at UBC Fisheries Centre and lead author of the study.

Meanwhile, less than 0.1 per cent of the world's oceans are designated as marine reserves that are closed to fishing.

"If people in Japan, Europe, and North America find themselves wondering how the markets are still filled with seafood, it's in part because spatial expansion and trade makes up for overfishing and 'fishing down the food chain' in local waters," says Swartz.

"While many people still view fisheries as a romantic, localized activity pursued by rugged individuals, the reality is that for decades now, numerous fisheries are corporate operations that take a mostly no-fish-left-behind approach to our oceans until there's nowhere left to go," says Daniel Pauly, co-author and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at UBC Fisheries Centre.

The researchers used a newly created measurement for the ecological footprint of fisheries that allows them to determine the combined impact of all marine fisheries and their rate of expansion.

Known as SeafoodPrint, it quantifies the amount of "primary production", the microscopic organisms and plants at the bottom of the marine food chain, required to produce any given amount of fish.

"This method allows us to truly gauge the impact of catching all types of fish, from large predators such as bluefin tuna to small fish such as sardines and anchovies," says Pauly.

"Because not all fish are created equal and neither is their impact on the sustainability of our ocean."

"The era of great expansion has come to an end, and maintaining the current supply of wild fish sustainably is not possible," says co-author and National Geographic Ocean Fellow Enric Sala.

"The sooner we come to grips with it, similar to how society has recognized the effects of climate change, the sooner we can stop the downward spiral by creating stricter fisheries regulations and more marine reserves."

Source: University of British Columbia


All the familiar human weaknesses are displayed here and we have started to pay the price already. By price I mean price because we have seen the substantial rise in cost of our routine fish buying, that has more than doubled recently.

Friday 3 December 2010

Dancing To A Russian Tune

The blame game has started. It is alleged that it was disquiet about the London Media that made FIFA frit. Heaven forfend! Not only do we have ferocious libel laws with I suspect many of those involved already protected by fierce super injunctions but we have a media already remarkably shy of offending big money men.

In this weird world of London the paradox is that only media organisations with huge financial resources can stand the legal costs. One is Sky, and Rupert is not going to upset his friends. The other is the BBC, taxpayer funded. There is a deep irony in all this.

When I brought myself to watch a news programme, if only to see Orpington cut off from the world, the bit where Blatter, boss man of FIFA, did his Oscar routine was showed. The camera cut to the Russian group and centred on a couple doing a wild hug, as one does.

But tucked away in a corner was the owner of Chelsea and former Governor of Chukotka in Siberia (the only part of Russia to have a bit in the Western Hemisphere, adjacent to Sarah Palin’s Alaska) Ramon “When Did You Last Sack Your Manager” Abramovich who also owns a lot of central London.

He would have been well able to advise Mr. Putin about how to counter the bid from the English FA. But there was another face well known in London just behind who may not have been recognised by many viewers. A gentleman who knows Mr. Putin very well, indeed it is said that they are godfathers (literally) to each others children.

It was Valery Gherghiev of the Maryinsky, Kirov, London Symphony Orchestra and other major orchestras and opera houses around the world. The lady he hugged, who may well have been his wife, was of a build and deportment of that of a dancer.

Valery has had his issues with the London media, specifically those opinionated and difficult to control arty types who have expressed doubts about the effect of his very busy schedule and individual personal organisation on the quality of some of his performances.

This is far from madding crowd of the ordinary news or personalities that attract the most attention, but it is still unwelcome.

Ramon and Valery no doubt would have been well able to stoke up concern about what treatment might be handed out in London. They could certainly tell FIFA about the problems people have simply getting through airports when there is a security flap. Also, getting out again in one piece.

They could remind them of the burgeoning criminality on the streets, the mob riots police cannot fully control, the expense, the unreliability of services, the overall security issues and above all the increasing dirt and discomfort.

They would have advised of the insults, offensiveness and general lack of courtesy endemic in the capital and to be endured amongst its political and media elite.

Last but not least would have been the gentle hints that Russia (and Quatar) had oil, gas, other resources, wealth and influence well beyond that of the bust English and were much better people to be friends with in the difficult years to come.

So instead of Cameron and The Prince we might have been better off sending Sir Simon Rattle and Darcy Bussell. Dame Monica Mason would have put some backbone into the bid. They could not have done much worse and they may well have made a rather better team.

It is December and one of the traditional Arts items of the season is the ballet “The Nutcracker”, and the picture above is that of the Snowflakes scene from the Kirov DVD with Valery Gherghiev conducting.

The Royal Ballet are not doing it this year, to the grief of many of its fans. But Sky Arts did show their version for people to box.

Outside the snowflakes are falling and are not going to go away for some time.

Meanwhile in Zurich the English were nut crackered by Gherghiev and it hurt.